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Afghans, Pakistan may use talks to ease tensions: Turkey

News4u – News Desk : ISTANBUL: Afghanistan and Pakistan have a chance at talks in Istanbul to end a blame game over a series of militant attacks that have deepened their mutual mistrust, officials from the Turkish host government said on Monday.

Presidents of the three countries meet on Tuesday as Afghanistan enters a critical phase in its transition, with the United States planning to pull its combat troops out by the end of 2014, and some Western countries already withdrawing theirs.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have been plagued by regular bouts of recriminations during the decade-old Taliban insurgency, with Afghan officials publicly airing suspicions that Pakistani intelligence is supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network, an insurgent group allied to the Taliban.

Noting a deteriorating regional environment, a Turkish official said: “Now is perhaps the time to try to reverse the course.”

“We sense that they have a genuine wish to talk to each other because they realise this trend is not helping either of them,” the official said before the summit of the three presidents, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, Pakistan’s Asif Zardari and their Turkish host Abdullah Gul.

There has been a flurry of speculation about drawing the Taliban and Haqqani group into negotiations to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

Underlining suspicions that Islamabad is backing the Taliban, Karzai has said he should be talking to Pakistan in any negotiations.

Significantly, Pakistan’s military chief General Ashfaq Kayani will meet his Afghan counterpart on the sidelines of the what will be the sixth summit between the three leaders.

The tri-lateral meeting will be followed by a regional conference on Afghanistan to be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and their counterparts from France and Germany, among others.

Many Afghans believe Pakistan is supporting the Taliban in order to regain influence in Kabul once Western forces leave.

A war of words escalated after the assassination in Kabul on Sept. 20 of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was heading a peace commission.

Afghan officials believe the suicide attack was ordered by Taliban leaders who, they say, are based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta and that the bomber was Pakistani.

Pakistan has also come under intense pressure from Afghanistan and the United States over allegations that its military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate ( ISI) has close ties with the Haqqani group.

The Haqqani group, which operates within Afghanistan, with a rear base in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan, has been blamed for a string of high profile attacks including one on the U.S. embassy in Kabul in September.

Pakistan has vehemently denied the allegations, and officials accuse Afghanistan of deflecting attention away from its own failures. They have also called on Afghanistan and U.S. forces there to act decisively against anti-Pakistan militants operating from Afghan territory.

Pakistan’s discomfort became more acute when Karzai signed a strategic partnership with its arch-rival India earlier this month, stoking old Pakistani fears of encirclement by unfriendly neighbours on its western and eastern borders.

Turkey, a Muslim member of NATO, hopes both sides will speak frankly at the Istanbul meeting to overcome misunderstandings. The hosts want to revive some spirit of cooperation with an agreement they hope will be signed in Istanbul.

“We are also hoping to have those two countries sign modest cooperation protocols,” the official said. Details had to be sorted out. “But we hope to be able to get them into that state of mind,” he said.

The later conference, which will be attended by 14 countries from the region and 13 involved in helping Afghanistan, is also expected to agree on a document that will contain confidence building elements, he said. REUTERS

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US stocks slump on worries about MF Global, Europe

News4u – News Desk : NEW YORK: Stocks have ended October with steep losses. Investors are worried about the collapse of the brokerage MF Global and missing details in Europe’s plan to contain the Greek debt crisis.

Despite the losses Monday, the S&P 500 index still had its best month since December 1991.

Bank stocks fell after MF Global filed for bankruptcy. Last week the company’s debt was downgraded to junk on concerns about its holdings of European debt. AP


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Three UN refugee agency staff killed in Afghan suicide attack

News4u – News Desk : UN : Three employees of the United Nations refugee agency were killed and two others wounded today when suicide bombers and gunmen carried out an attack near the world body’s compound in southern Afghanistan.

The “organized” attack happened at around 6 a.m. local time in Kandahar, according to a statement issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A car bomb was exploded at the gate of a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that shares a common wall with the UNHCR compound. When the wall collapsed, suicide attackers entered the UN premises. Three UN security guards were killed and two others were wounded. Two security contractors were killed as well.

“This is a tragedy for UNHCR and for the families of the dead and wounded. It also underscores the great risks for humanitarian workers in Afghanistan,” said High Commissioner António Guterres.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that the work carried out by the UN and international aid workers is purely humanitarian. “Its sole purpose is to improve the daily lives of the country’s people,” he told reportersin New York.

UNHCR has been working in Afghanistan since the 1980s, and over this period it has facilitated the return of millions of refugees and assisted other forcibly displaced persons inside the country.

The agency said it is seeking “a fuller understanding” of the circumstances of the attack. “Nevertheless, the fact remains that people working for us have been wounded and killed and the functioning of our Kandahar office seriously disrupted,” it stated.

Members of the Security Council condemned the attack “in the strongest terms,” in a statement read out to the press by Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month.

The 15-member body also called on the Afghan authorities to bring those responsible to justice and to take all possible steps to protect UN personnel and premises.

Also condemning the attack, the President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, said such acts against humanitarian workers, civilians and law enforcement officials are reprehensible. “Those responsible must be brought to justice and made to face the full weight of the law,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

The UN Staff Union also voiced outrage, saying that today’s incident, along with a string of attacks in the country over the past couple of years, confirms Afghanistan as one of the most dangerous places for UN staff.

“In light of today’s attack, the Staff Union once again urges the Secretary-General to reconsider the deployment of staff in Afghanistan and to carry out a comprehensive review of the security situation in the country,” it said in a news release.

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UN-LOGO

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Historical Hindu temple reopens after 60 yrs in northwest Pak

News4u – News Desk : ISLAMABADL: Hindus celebrated Diwali at a historic 160-year-old temple at Peshawar in northwest Pakistan after it was reopened to the minority community after six decades on a court’s orders.

Scores of Hindus, including women and children, visited the Goraknath temple at Gor Khatri, which was reopened after Phool Wati, the daughter of the shrine’s cleric, petitioned the Peshawar High Court.

Children and youths wearing colourful clothes were part of the gathering. The children burst crackers while the youths sang bhajans and danced.

Phool Wati and her son Kaka Ram have claimed that the temple, which has been controlled in past decades by the police, Evacuee Property Trust Board and the provincial archaeology department, belongs to their family.

Though a two-judge bench of the High Court ruled last month that Phool Wati had failed to provide evidence of her family’s ownership of the temple, it directed authorities to reopen the shrine for religious purposes.

The court observed that stopping religious activities at a place of worship was against all laws.

Kamla Rani, the daughter of Phool Wati, was grateful to the authorities for reopening the temple.

“I am very happy that my mother, though very old, fought a legal battle to reopen this temple for Hindu worshippers,” she told the media.

She said she had good relations with Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims in her neighbourhood. “I don’t feel that I am different from others living in Peshawar.”

Noting that the temple was reopened due to the joint efforts of the Hindu community, Kamla Rani said: “You can’t imagine how happy we feel today.”  PTI

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As world passes 7 billion milestone, UN urges action to meet key challenges

News4u – News Desk : UN : Top United Nations officials today marked the global population reaching 7 billion with a call to action to world leaders to meet the challenges that a growing population poses, from ensuring adequate food and clean water to guaranteeing equal access to security and justice.

“Today, we welcome baby 7 billion. In doing so we must recognize our moral and pragmatic obligation to do the right thing for him, or for her,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press event at UN Headquarters to mark the milestone.

Mr. Ban noted that the world’s population reached 6 billion in 1998, only 13 years ago, and it is expected to grow to 9 billion by the middle of this century, or even a few years earlier – by 2043.

“But today – this Day of 7 Billion – is not about one newborn, or even one generation,” he stated. “This is a day about our entire human family.”

The world today is one of “terrible contradictions,” said Mr. Ban, noting that there is plenty of food but 1 billion people go hungry; lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others; huge advances in medicine while mothers die everyday in childbirth; and billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe.

“What kind of world has baby 7 billion been born into? What kind of world do we want for our children in the future?” he asked.

“I am one of 7 billion. You are also one of 7 billion. Together, we can be 7 billion strong – by working in solidarity for a better world for all,” the Secretary-General said.

In an op-ed published in The International Herald Tribune, Mr. Ban said that as the world population passes 7 billion, “alarm bells are ringing.” He noted that the meeting later this week in France of the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies (G-20) is taking place against the backdrop of growing economic uncertainty and mounting inequality.

“In Cannes, leaders should agree to a concrete action plan that advances the well-being of all nations and people, not just the wealthiest and most powerful,” he stated.

The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, said today’s milestone is a reminder of how the world’s poorest – the so-called ‘bottom billion’ – are rendered vulnerable with little or no access to basic needs.

“Seven billion people face, almost on a daily basis – with varying degrees of severity – the consequences of environmental challenges, increasing poverty, inequity, wars and economic instability,” he told the event.

“But with each of these challenges comes an opportunity – 7 billion opportunities in fact,” he added, noting that these opportunities can be harnessed to reach global anti-poverty targets, to invest in youth and women, and to re-think the approach to sustainable development.

The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) underscored some of the challenges in an expanding global community, including in promoting the rights and health of 7 billion women, men and children.

“We must ensure that, in areas of the world where population is growing fast, we raise the status of women and young girls to be able to access education and make choices for themselves,” Babatunde Osotimehin said at the gathering.

“We also owe it to the 215 million women worldwide who require family planning and are not getting it to make it available,” he said, adding it is also necessary to ensure safe pregnancy and delivery for every woman that wants to give birth.

At the same time, he highlighted the need to give ageing populations in many parts of the world a life of dignity, and to tackle the rapid urbanization and migration which many countries have to face.

The UN human rights chief also marked the occasion, stating that the 7 billionth child is, by virtue of her or his birth, a permanent holder of rights, with an “irrevocable” claim to freedom.

“But she or he will also be born into a world where some people, given the chance, will trample on those rights and freedoms in the name of state security, or economic policy, or group chauvinism,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

“If she was born a girl, she will have fewer choices. If born in the developing world, she or he will have fewer opportunities. If born a descendant of Africans in a non-African country, or as an indigenous person, member of a religious minority, or as a Roma, she or he is likely to face discrimination and marginalization, with a childhood rife with vulnerability, and a future adult life hedged in by exclusion.

“But he or she has also been born at a time of great hope,” Ms. Pillay added, noting that the demonstrations and mobilizations of civil society seen in 2011 in a sense “provide a birthday celebration for the 7 billionth person on this planet, and also serve as a warning to those who might be inclined to deprive this child, like many others, of his or her birthrights.”

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Bosnian court orders shooter on US embassy in custody

News4u – News Desk : SARAJEVO: A court has ordered the gunman who fired an automatic weapon at the US Embassy in Sarajevo last week held in detention for a month while authorities investigate what they call a terrorist act.

The judge on Monday accepted the prosecution’s argument that 23-year-old Mevlid Jasareviccould interfere with the investigation if not in custody.

Jasarevic is accused of shooting at the embassy building in Sarajevo for at least 30 minutes on Friday and injuring a policeman before a police sniper shot him in the leg.

Jasarevic said at the hearing that he does not recognize the court. His lawyer says his client is completely detached from reality and must be seen by a psychiatrist.

Jasarevic is a follower of the Sunni Muslim Wahhabi sect. AP

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Jury fails to reach unanimous verdict in spot-fixing trial

News4u – News Desk : LONDON: The jury hearing the trial of Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who are accused of spot-fixing, have failed to reach an unanimous decision, prompting the judge to ask for a majority verdict.

The jury of six men and six women, who have retired for a third day of deliberations this morning, has now reported to judge Jeremy Cooke at the Southwark Crown Court that it is unable to agree whether Butt and Asif were guilty of spot-fixing during the fourth Test against England at Lord’s in August last year.

The indecision has prompted judge Cooke to ask the jury to try to come to a 10-2 majority verdict but he did not set any deadline.

“If you are unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any particular one of the counts then I can take a majority decision from you, which is one on which at least ten of you agree,” Justice Cooke told the jury.

Butt and Asif are facing charges of conspiracy to cheat, and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, following the Lord’s Test where they allegedly conspired with agent Mazhar Majeed and teenage fast bowler Mohammad Amir to bowl pre-determined no-balls.

However, both Butt and Asif denied the charges. PTI

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US funds Sesame St in Pak to preach tolerance

News4u – News Desk : LAHORE : Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are nowhere in sight. But there’s Elmo. And new creatures too, like Baily, a kindly donkey who loves to sing, and Haseen O Jameel, a vain crocodile who lives at the bottom of a well.
Sesame Street is coming to Pakistan but not as generations of Americans know it.
The TV show has a new cast of local characters led by a vivacious 6-year-old girl named Rani who loves cricket and traditional Pakistani music . Her sidekick, Munna, is a 5-year-old boy obsessed with numbers and banging away on Pakistani bongo drums, or tabla. The US is bankrolling the initiative with $20 million, hoping it will improve education in a country where onethird of primary school-age children are not in class.
Washington also hopes the program will increase tolerance at a time when the influence of radical views is growing . “One of the key goals of the show in Pakistan is to increase tolerance toward groups like women and ethnic minorities,” said Larry Dolan , who was the head education officer for the US Agency for International Development in Pakistan until very recently. The show, which started filming last week and will air at the end of November , was jointly developed by Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series, and Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, a group in Lahore that has been staging puppet shows for more than three decades.
The American version of Sesame Street first aired in 1969, and the US government has worked with the company since then to produce shows in about 20 foreign countries, including Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Perhaps nowhere else are the stakes as high as in Pakistan . The US is worried that growing radicalization could one day destabilize the nuclear-armed country. Washington has committed to spend $7.5 billion in civilian aid in Pakistan over five years, despite accusations that the country is aiding insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.
Rani, the new program’s star, sports pigtails and a blue and white school uniform. The creators chose Rani as the lead character to emphasize the importance of sending girls to school. AP

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Eating junk food ‘can cause depression’

News4u - Entertainment & Features Desk : Eating junk food is not only bad for your waistline but also for your mental health, says a new study.

British and French scientists analyzed food and mood data from 3,486 men and women (average age 55) working in a London office, reports MSNBC.com.

Each person filled out a food frequency questionnaire that asked how often they had eaten a specific portion size of food during the previous year, with answers ranging from ‘never’ to ‘six or more times a day.’

Two dietary patterns were determined: the ‘whole food pattern’ (a high daily intake of healthy fruits, vegetables and fish) and the ‘processed food pattern’ (noshing on lots of sweetened desserts, chocolates, fried food, processed meat, refined grains, high-fat dairy products and condiments).

Five years later, the same participants filled out a questionnaire that measured symptoms of depression.

After taking into account factors like age and sex, the researchers found that high consumption of the processed foods was more likely to lead to depression, while people who ate healthier were least likely to be depressed.

“Our finding shows a strong association between diet and depressive symptoms after controlling for a large range of socio-demographic factors, and for health behaviors such as smoking, physical activity, and health status,” the New York Daily News quoted the study’s author, Tasnime Akbaraly, as saying.

“The effect of diet on depressive symptoms didn’t go down after we adjusted for other indicators of a healthy lifestyle, such as smoking, physical activity, and body mass. What we found isn’t a spurious association,” Akbaraly added. ani

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Ensure intelligence doesn’t go to Haqqani Network: US to Pak

News4u – News Desk : WASHINGTON: The United States has urged Pakistan to ensure that intelligence information does not go to the Haqqani network and take steps against it.

There is a range of issues that could help to facilitate in squeezing the Haqqani network, a senior administration official said adding that that would be very complementary to US efforts on the Afghan side of the border.

“That includes ensuring that intelligence doesn’t go to the Haqqani Network, that they address IED issues, that they don’t benefit from financial resources or flow of finances, that we deal specifically with areas where we know the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are based, including kind of key cities along the border,” the official said yesterday.

The issue was raised by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during her recent trip to Islamabad.

“We continue to work very, very closely with them, and (Pak Army Chief) General (Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani and the civilian leadership have committed themselves to doing - to undertaking actions and assisting in squeezing,” the official said.

“The Secretary, I think, was quite clear that we all need to see visible signs of progress as a matter of some urgency in days and weeks, as she noted, as opposed to months and years,” he said. PTI

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